In The Line Of Fire – Wiltshire’s Role During German Air Raids

on Tuesday, 11 July 2017. Posted in Archives, Military

One of the documents in the Wiltshire Constabulary archives held here at the History Centre includes the Wartime Police Control Room Log (F5/270/2) which was used during 1944 and 1945. The Wiltshire Police Control Room was based at Devizes Headquarters and was and still is the central hub of communications for the force. At that time, the Devizes police station was in Bath Road. The new police HQ was built in 1964 and was a considerably larger building.

The log book not only registered downed aircraft, but firing practices, air raid warnings, evacuee arrivals and other war related incidences.

F5/270/2

I have looked at two individual incidents which were logged in March and April 1944. Both incidents involved crashed German aircraft, I’ve added extra detail which I have found archived elsewhere. The first incident happened on March 14th 1944.

14/3/1944 2345 hours; initial reports of a plane crash about halfway between Alton Barnes and Devizes reported to Marlborough Police by an Orderly Sergeant at RAF Alton Barnes.

2355 Inspector Shears is dispatched to All Cannings as crash believed to be in vicinity.

15/03/1944 0100 confirmed that a plane, believed to be a German aircraft had crashed in a field adjacent to the canal at All Cannings. The plane had burnt out and bombs were in the field. They were unable to say if occupants were trapped. The RAF was guarding the scene and an Ambulance was en route from Devizes.

0120 Confirmation received that the aircraft was a German one with twin engines, model unknown at this stage. There was no trace of any crew ‘but feared from odour and fierceness of conflagration they have been trapped inside.’

0420 aircraft was identified by flight Lieutenant Rickitto as a J.U.88. (This aircraft a Junkers 88 no. 141152 was part of the Luftwaffe which had blitzed London that night. The crew had had specific orders to bomb Buckingham Palace and Whitehall. The plane had been pursued westerly out of London and experienced engine failure as it reached Wiltshire.)

Junkers 88 (Used with kind permission of The Battle of Britain Historical Society)

0710 Major Hailey US forces at Tidworth reported that he had a German airman in custody. The prisoner had supplied descriptions of three other crewmen who had bailed out at the same time. RAF Lieutenant Ricketts (Interrogation Officer) requested that the prisoner be brought to Devizes Police Station for interrogation.

Two other German crew members were detained; one in Patney and the other in Bulford. Both were taken into custody in Devizes.

16/3/1944 1745 the body of the missing airman, the last of the crew, was found in a field in Patney, about 1 and a half miles from the crash scene. A parachute was attached to the body. (German Officer Unteroffizier Hans Schonleitner was buried at Haycombe Cemetery in Bath- local schoolchildren had found his body with a partially opened parachute).

There is a full narrative of that fateful flight on http://indianamilitary.org/ by the surviving tailgunner on board, Gerhard Grunewald (he was subsequently interred as a POW in America).

The second incident happened on April 24rd at Hill Deverill, Warminster. Another aircraft was reported to have come down, narrowly missing the village properties.

An extract from the Control room log

The aircraft, also confirmed as a Junkers 88, had been carrying four aircrew and was part of the Luftwaffe planned raid on Bristol. According to RAF Intelligence reports, a huge raid had been planned to hit the docks and the city of Bristol. It had involved between 90 and 120 German bombers. The 46th Anti Aircraft Brigade based at Bristol reported that the ‘attack in progress’ at 0147hours. Ironically, the nearest bombs dropped to Bristol were reported to have hit Batheaston in this particular raid. Many other bombs and incendiary devices were dropped in rural areas in Somerset, Wiltshire and along the coast in Dorset. It is possible that the British defence had thwarted the planned mass destruction of Bristol that night.

The crashed Junkers 88 in question was returning from the Bristol area when it was pursued and subsequently shot down by a Mosquito NF Mk.XVII, part of 125 Squadron based at RAF Hurn. The pilot of the Mosquito was Squadron Leader Eric Barwell DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) and co pilot, Flight Lieutenant David Haigh. The shots were fired approximately 4 miles south of Melksham.

The Warminster Journal reported the incident on Friday 28th April 1944 with the headline ‘Three Nazi Airmen Captured’. Due to the sensitivity and restrictions of media reports during the war, the location was not mentioned in the report.

Above: A photo of Helmut Trauwald (could be either of the men shown) and his gravestone at Haycombe Cemetery. Acknowledgements to Battle of Britain Historical Society & Aircrew Remembrance Society.

Many air crew were killed during the Second World War and hopefully none of these men will be forgotten, regardless of their nationality. There are many societies and organisations who tirelessly continue to commemorate the War, educating the next generations. ‘Lest We Forget’.

Sources-

F5/270/2 Wartime Police Control Room Log (1944-1945)- Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

Warminster Journal 28th April 1944- Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

Websites-

www.battleofbritain1940.net

www.aircrewremembrancesociety.co.uk

http://indianamilitary.org

Anna Ervine, Community History Advisor

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